John Mulaney portrays Joe Biden on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ then leads an inspired airport musical
From Kevin Nealon in the ‘90s up through recent turns by Jason Sudeikis and Woody Harrelson, Joe Biden has seen almost as many portrayals on “Saturday Night Live” as political campaigns. And with “SNL” returning after a couple weeks off, the series added a new face to Biden’s ongoing 2020 Democratic campaign: comic John Mulaney.
The former “SNL” writer and creator of the recent kid-tilted Netflix variety show “John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch” became the latest to don Biden’s comb-over in a sketch that touched on the day’s South Carolina primary and the developing coronavirus crisis.
The cold open began with Beck Bennett as Vice President Mike Pence, who has been placed in charge of information about the growing public health scare. “Even though I don’t believe in ‘science,’” Bennett’s Pence said as he opened his press conference, “this disease has been quite a test of my faith, just like dinosaur bones or Timothée Chalamet.”
Kenan Thompson then appeared as Dr. Ben Carson to present an image of the virus — a wide-mouthed Stitch from Disney’s “Lilo and Stitch” — before giving way to Fred Armisen’s Michael R. Bloomberg. Asked by Bennett how he joined the gathered press corps, Armisen shrugged and said, “I just walked in coughing and everyone got out of my way.”
The sketch then expanded to the remaining Democratic field, including Bloomberg’s debate nemesis in Kate McKinnon’s Elizabeth Warren (“I may be fifth in the polls, but I’m No. 1 in your nightmares,” she crowed) and Mulaney, who appeared as the night’s winner, Joe Biden: “Guess who just came in first in south Cracker Barrel?”
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“Joe Biden?” Bennett’s Pence questioned the latest face in “SNL’s” roster of candidates. “You look ... different.”
Mulaney then offered a play on Biden’s penchant for non-sequitor storytelling (“Me and Nelson Mandela were palling around South Africa ‘Green Book'-style,” he began) before the return of the campaign’s presumptive Democratic front-runner, Larry David’s Bernie Sanders, who offered his own response to the coronavirus. “You gotta admit folks, universal healthcare doesn’t look too bad now, does it?”
Colin Jost also returned as Pete Buttigieg, who took his lumps from Rachel Dratch’s Amy Klobuchar (“The moderate from the Midwest schtick is mine,” she warned) before returning to David as Sanders, who extolled the virtue of bar soap over Purell. “You know who was a great handwasher? Joseph Stalin,” David said. “Just sayin.’”
Mulaney returned with an opening monologue that compared the Founding Fathers to the 1992 Chicago Bulls and questioned the wisdom of the priorities of the Bill of Rights. But what may linger longest from the night was his role leading a gleefully bizarre mid-episode sketch that took familiar comedy tropes about the frustrations of airline travel and fed them through a celebrity-studded musical review.
Mixing up songs from “Phantom of the Opera,” “Annie” and “West Side Story” into various complaints about LaGuardia Airport, the sketch made room for Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who justified his decision to travel in pajamas and Bowen Yang as a surgical mask-wearing “profiled Asian” to the tune of “Suddenly Seymour” from “Little Shop of Horrors” (“No, I wasn’t in ‘Parasite,’ ” Yang sang.)
Then, musical guest David Byrne arrived to play a baggage handler to close things out through a take on the Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” recast as “Plane to Nowhere.” Like the best of “SNL,” the Mulaney-led sketch took flight on a determined path from the ridiculous to the sublime.
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